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Khālid Khalīfah (1964–2023)

Forfatter af Døden er et slit

9 Works 537 Members 31 Reviews

Om forfatteren

Image credit: Khālid Khalīfah, 2023.

Værker af Khālid Khalīfah

Døden er et slit (2016) 259 eksemplarer
In Praise of Hatred (2006) 115 eksemplarer
No One Prayed Over Their Graves (2019) 43 eksemplarer
الموت عمل شاق (2016) 2 eksemplarer
Haris al-Khadi'a (1993) 1 eksemplar
Dafatir al-Qurbat (2000) 1 eksemplar

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Death in Syria

This is a story of four family members who take a trip by car from Damascus to Anibiya, a small town a few hundred kilometers away.

The car’s occupants are three sibling and their father. The father has recently died. His cadavre is wrapped in a makeshift shroud. The body is being taken to Anibya for burial next to his wife as was his dying wish.

Thirty year’s ago a fourth sibling, a talented, smart independent young woman who, when her father arranged for her to marry a man she did not love, decided to die. On the wedding day in Anibiya, she climbed to the roof a building, looked down at the wedding party and burned herself to death.

Possibly it was because of guilt that father’s dying wish was that his body be buried in Anibiya. It was an impractical wish as to drive there from Damascus was extremely dangerous. But the brothers decided to go. The sister was not consulted.

It’s hot. It’s Syria. There are many official and unofficial road-blocks with stops between Damascus and Anibiya. The trip which is only a four hour drive in normal times, takes three days. The father’s dead body putrefies in stages, graphically told. There’s no A/C. The siblings can’t open the windows as they are scared of regime and rebel soldiers, and gangs. They are frequently held up at checkpoints. At one the two brothers are told to leave the car. The sister waits in the closed-window car for five hours with her father’s putrefying body. When the brothers return she is mute and remains so, forever.

This is a disturbing book in a bad way. It is an unpleasant read. Although it illustrates the meaningless of war, the method used, the long passages describing the decaying of the body did not seem to be there for any reason other than to engender horror. It was also a little disingenuous as it’s common knowledge that Islam requires bodies to be buried cleanly as soon as possible after death.
… (mere)
1 stem
kjuliff | 15 andre anmeldelser | Feb 8, 2024 |
I did not enjoy this book; reading it was a tedious struggle.

The story begins in 1907. Two young men, Hanna Gregoros and Zakariya Bayazidi, return to their village near Aleppo, Syria, to discover that a flood has left virtually all buildings destroyed and nearly everyone dead. Flashbacks then reveal the lives of Hanna, a Syrian Christian, and Zakariya, an Arab Muslim, before the flood. The two used their wealth to build a citadel devoted to the pursuit of pleasures, especially drinking, gambling, and sex. After the flood, Hanna devotes himself to a life of asceticism, becoming obsessed with death and the meaning of life. Zakariya is less willing to repent and give up his libertine lifestyle, but he never abandons his friend.

Though the focus is on these two lifelong friends, the lives of other characters (like Zakariya’s sister, a Jewish friend, and two grandchildren) are also detailed. There are so many characters that it is sometimes difficult to remember who is who. To add to the confusion, there are two characters named William and two named Aisha. And then there’s Maryam and Mariana, both of whom have lost families in tragic circumstances. A family tree would have been very helpful. In the Acknowledgments, the author mentions a friend who “drew up an index of the characters and mapped out the relationships between them.” This index and map would be helpful to the reader.

Because of the number of characters, it is difficult to connect with them. Sometimes characters are mentioned, but there is no explanation as to who they are until pages later. This is the case with Sherko. Sometimes it is difficult to know if a character is important: a lot of information is given about someone, only to have that person never appear again. For instance, do we need to be given so much information about Zakariya’s tailor Monsieur George?

The book can only be described as dense with lengthy paragraphs of exposition, little dialogue, and unnecessary details and tangents. At times the reader may feel buried in details. In an interview featured in The Guardian, Khalifa stated, “It is a novel about lost love, death, contemplation and nature in our lives, about the making of saints, about epidemics, about disasters, about a people’s attempt and struggle to be part of global culture, about the struggle between liberals and conservatives, about the eternal coexistence of this city [Aleppo], about the city at a time when the whole world was seeking to move to a new stage” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/jul/01/khaled-khalifa-all-the-places-of-my-childhood-are-destroyed-no-one-prayed-over-their-graves-novel). Perhaps the problem is that he tried to include too much.

The writing style did not appeal to me. There is constant shifting of timelines from past to ongoing present and between characters – usually with little indication of a shift. Transitions are often missing: “[Shaha] lost weight, and her face grew pale as an old owl’s. Zakariya wasn’t able to extricate his remaining family and friends all from the disaster; they had all shattered. He asked Hanna to pick himself off the floor and go back to his life that was waiting for him. Hanna listened, then asked Zakariya to leave him alone and take care of Shams Al-Sabah who had left that morning.” The connection between ideas is difficult to ascertain.

There are parts that are contradictory or make little sense. For instance, Hanna is told that Mariana “’wasn’t some naïve girl’” yet a couple of pages later the same person tells Hanna that “’she was in some respects still that same naïve girl.’” How can Hanna who is not a priest “give mass”? Some sentences are just bizarre: “Mariana saw Hanna dangling adoringly from Aisha’s eyelashes”?! Zakariya is described as having “Pieces of his body . . . falling off” and Hanna sees “pieces of my body fall off”? A woman has one child but she “surrounded herself and her children with amulets”? A woman spends the night with Hanna and then “got up, washed, changed the bedsheet, and lay down next to Hanna once more as dawn slipped thought the window.” She changes the bedsheet with him in it? A servant can read a name on an envelope and write an address as well, but then asks a man to teach him to read and write?

Perhaps translation is the issue. There are anachronisms like “flash in the pan” and grammatical errors like “I saw furniture that had once been in my house wandering the city.” Words are repeated. Prodigious, for instance is used five times: “prodigious capacity for learning” and “prodigious power” and “prodigious crowd” and “prodigious affection” and “prodigious memory.”

The author writes of his “initial chaotic drafts” but, with all due respect, I’d argue that this final draft is still chaotic. It lacks cohesion and just goes on and on. I can understand why the author, in the interest of fairness, shows each of three religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) as having female fundamentalists, but is it necessary to have three impossible love stories? Others may have a different reaction when reading this book, but I just wanted it to end.

Note: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).
… (mere)
Schatje | 1 anden anmeldelse | Jul 17, 2023 |
شعرت بالألم وأنا أرى خليفة يتحدث عن الدور الذي لعبه أبناء جلدتي من "الشيعة العراقيين" في خراب بلده وله الحق بالتأكيد في استغلال صنعة الأدب لتخليد الدور السلبي الذي لعبته الأطراف المتصارعة (وبنو جلدتي منهم للأسف)، لكنني أستغرب من تحفظه عن ذكر باقي الدول والشعوب التي شاركت وما زالت تشارك في خراب سوريا (إيران، تركيا، الإمارات، قطر، ... إلخ)

وأسال هنا: هل يحس أبناء الدول التي ساهمت حكوماتها أو شعوبها في تدمير العراق (تكاد تكون نفسها التي خربت سوريا سوريا نفسها) خلال السنوات العشرين الماضية بالألم حين يقرأون الأدب العراقي الذي يخلّد بعض ما أجرمته تلك الشعوب والحكومات؟ أم إن الأدباء العراقيين لا زالوا بحاجة إلى المزيد من الجرأة ليسموا الأشياء بمسمياتها في كتاباتهم؟
… (mere)
AdnanJCh | Feb 15, 2023 |
Khaled Khalifa’s, “Death is Hard Work,” narrates a journey from Damascus to Anibiya, a small town a few hundred kilometers away – a trip far longer in present and historical time than the few hundred kilometers distance. The dangerous road blocks serve as tense punctuations to the biographies of, not only the three siblings making the trip, but several others biographies including their father’s, his second wife, their aunt. Most notable of the biographies is their father’s sister. She was a talented, smart and independent young woman when her father arranges for her to marry a man she does not love. On the wedding day, she climbs to the roof a building, looks down at the wedding party and burns herself to death. Abdel Latif, her brother, the father of the siblings, never forgives himself for not supporting her resistance to this imposed marriage. Is this failure the reason Abdel left Anibiya for 40 years?
The novel does not stop its narration to explain the horror and injustice of Syria’s civil war. Khalifa narrates the checkpoints of corruption, courage, love, religious extremism as part of the landscape the siblings must traverse in getting to Anibiya where their father requested he be buried. The author uses Bolbol, who was with their father at death, as a fulcrum for the narration. From it the author branches off to narrate how Abdel finally, after 40 years, marries the love of his youth, Nevine, after he has been widowed. Nevine serves to inspire Abdel to courageous acts after the civil war begins. Hussein, Abdel’s other son, has squandered talent to become a low level gang member. Bolbol must use all his strength to keep Hussein – stronger and more talented – committed to the journey and burial. Fatima, the sister, becomes mute at the end of the novel – symbolic for the inexpressibility of Syria’s horrors. After they have managed to bury their father, and have returned to Damascus, Bolbol decides to insist on being called his proper name, Nabil. He returns to living the reclusive life he had been living up until his father’s death.
… (mere)
forestormes | 15 andre anmeldelser | Dec 25, 2022 |



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